Baja 2000 - longest desert race ever is over

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CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (Nov. 15) - The longest non-stop point-to-point desert race ever held -- Tecate SCORE Baja 2000 presented by AutoZone - came to a surprising finish Wednesday in Mexico with 70 percent of the 262 Sunday's starters...

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (Nov. 15) - The longest non-stop point-to-point desert race ever held -- Tecate SCORE Baja 2000 presented by AutoZone - came to a surprising finish Wednesday in Mexico with 70 percent of the 262 Sunday's starters completing the torturous 1679.54-mile, brutal terrain of the Baja California peninsula. A total of 185 vehicles and their drivers, led by overall winners Johnny Campbell of San Clemente, Calif., (two-wheel vehicles) and Dan Smith of Riverside, Calif., (four-wheel), officially survived some of the toughest desert landscape in the world to reach the finish line near Cabo San Lucas and complete the rugged route within 80-hour race limit. Campbell, along with co-riders Tim Staab, Criag Smith and Steve Hengeveld, recorded the fastest time of the race in a record 30 hours, 54 minutes and 12 seconds aboard a Honda XR650 motorcycle. Campbell's team averaged 54.348 miles per hour in the once-in-a-lifetime race that included drivers from 31 states, Washington, D.C. and 11 countries.

Smith, a race truck driver from Riverside, Calif., and his co-driver David Ashley, posted the best overall four-wheel vehicle time in their Ford F-150 pickup at 32 hours, 15 minutes and 39 seconds with an average of 52.061 m.p.h.

Class winners were recorded in 30 categories in the ultimate endurance test for the drivers, machines and crews.

No significant driver/rider medical incidents were reported in the massive international four-day event. Several phenomenal wheel-to-wheel battles took place during the historic race including in Class 8 (full-sized trucks) with winner Curt LeDuc; in Class 10 (1650cc cars) with champion Steve Myers; and in Class 3 with the father-son finish of Darren and Clive Skilton.

LeDuc, the 1997 SCORE Trophy Truck point champion from Cherry Valley, Calif., along with co-drivers John Swift and Austin Robinson in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, battled Chris Wilson of El Cajon, Calif., and his team for nearly 24 hours before taking the victory in 39 hours, 8 minutes and 35 seconds. "We had to play the Baja game," said LeDuc, who has now won the longest North American race as well as the famed Paris-to-Dakar Rally from Europe to Africa. "For 24 hours, we'd pit at almost the same time. But on radio I'd say I was 100 miles ahead of where I actually was. I didn't want to race him. I'd pull over and let him by - he was really aggressive and I was more cautious. He would get lost or miss a turn, then I would go by him. After 24 hours, we still had about 700 miles to go. Because he was there, the pace was up. We had passed about 40 other cars and were the first non-Trophy Truck on the road. I passed him after San Ignacio and they ended up having problems. Once we had a two-hour lead I backed off the pace." The Class 10 division saw Myers and his two brothers, Dan and Andrew, all from Newport Beach, Calif., in their Jimco compete against Don Hatch of Brea, Calif., Whit Courtney of Prospect, Ky., and Ben Schlimme of Manhattan Beach, Calif., for over 41 hours before the Myers team nipped Hatch's squad by just 19 seconds. It was the closest class competition in the entire Tecate SCORE Baja 2000 event. Skilton, 32, of Long Beach, Calif., with co-driver Barry Thompson, defeated his father, Clive, 59, of Orange, Calif., in the Class 3 battle that lasted nearly 50 hours. Darren, driving a Kia Sportage, averaged 34.083 m.p.h. to best Clive's Jeep Grand Cherokee which averaged 32.587 m.p.h. Skilton successfully defended his title he claimed at last year's SCORE Baja 1000 and his third consecutive SCORE season point championship.

"We had a good run, but a hard start," Skilton said. "We were down three hours and got stuck once and I didn't think we would finish. For a while we were only going 20 miles an hour. Even though it was long and we're tired, it was a special event. The length and quality was perfect. It was very technical and beautiful." The "Ironman" performance of the Baja 2000 was turned in by the son and father tandem of Jerome and Dennis Law in the Sportsman Motorcycle division. The San Luis Obisopo, Calif., duo each rode the entire 1,679-mile distance aboard their 400cc Yamaha motorcycles. Jerome Law, 25, made his solo run in 41:48:56 to place third in the class, just one hour, 36 minutes behind the class-winning of Geoff Sanborn, David Holden and Gary Heroneme. Dennis Law, 46, finished 16th in the category in just over 54 hours.

"This (the Tecate SCORE Baja 2000) only happens once in a lifetime, so I was able to convince my dad to do it," said Jerome Law. "There's nothing really that can prepare you for it. The best thing is to just not think too much about it. I crashed right out of Catavina, and went over the handlebars. The bike followed me and landed on top of me. I just sat there for a little bit and had to think about things. I kept going, but for 100 miles I only averaged about 25 (m.p.h.) when I could have been going about 60 because my lights were out. I was definitely one with my bike - my butt hurt so badly and my leg from the accident. 1,700 miles makes you appreciate 1,000 miles like the previous Baja races." "We planned on going straight through," Dennis Law said. "Jerome only stopped to eat. I hit the wall north of La Paz and was hallucinating, so I got back to the chase truck and rested. I ended up breaking the transmission after that, so that gave me three hours to sleep. Even though it was really grueling, I really enjoyed it. The course was incredibly challenging. It's not so much the distance, but it was just challenging."

The final finisher, Xavier Reyes of Tijuana, B.C., Mexico co-drove his Suzuki Samari vehicle with four other drivers to a time of 78 hours, 34 minutes and 48 seconds for an average speed of 21.373 m.p.h.

Among the other class winners was the veteran team of Greg Row of Spring Valley, Calif., Dean Sundahl of Santee, Calif., and Eric Dunlavey of San Diego, who roade a new Bombardier ATV to a time of 41:34:44 for a speed of 40.394 m.p.h. in winning Class 25 and the Class 11 "Dream Team" of Eric Solorzano, Albert Solorzano, Horacio Pereya, Roman Pereya, Martin Garibay an Victor Barajas, all past class champions in Baja races.

Shoemaker Productions of San Clemente, Calif., is producing the televised edition of the race to air as a one-hour special on the Speedvision Network. First airings are set for Friday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. (PST) and Saturday, Dec. 16, at 11 a.m. (PST).

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